Power your mobile strategy with a cloud

Use a private cloud to handle security, management and data access for your mobile workforce

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Shoring up security for your mobile OSes

Jeff Deacon, director of corporate strategy at Verizon Business, says that in most organizations today, mobile devices are coming in straight across the Internet, and this is not a good idea. "If you poke a hole in your firewall for access from a mobile device you have effectively poked a hole in your firewall for anyone in the world. Securing a gateway specific to mobile devices that can support various operating systems -- iOS, Android, Windows -- is very important."

Deacon says that many companies do not allow access to back-office data across the Internet. Access to secured data with smartphones or tablets should be done via a VPN. Richard Peltz says that agents at Marcus-Millichap use iPhones or iPads through a secured login or VPN residing on the iPhone.

BYOD also opens up a whole can of worms with respect to security, says Pemmaraju. "The question is how do you make sure that these apps are secure and, when they get downloaded to the device, that they don't accidentally get lost or get into the wrong hands?" A hacker could grab the app itself as it's being downloaded to the device, or intercept just the data going back and forth between the cloud and the device.

All of this has to be centrally administered, managed and provisioned. "This is where the mobile cloud comes in," Pemmaraju says.

Eric Miller
"The usability group wants to make it easier for people to use the phone, while the security folks want to make it more difficult," says Eric Miller, CIO at Erie Insurance.

At Marcus & Millichap, with over 80 offices and 1,200 agents and brokers, Peltz says that the firm does not allow across-the-board access to corporate databases. Agents can access secured data -- inventory, buildings for sale, research reports, etc. -- via a Cisco VPN and by using the Web browser on their tablet, computer or phone. Access through a browser gets agents to an application that provides a view of the inventory database.

Registered clients can also search inventory -- via Safari or Firefox -- from the client-login area of Marcus & Millichap's website, says Peltz.

As of now, however, Marcus & Millichap does not allow remote users to change data, only view it. "The reason for this is policy -- a regional manager has to approve changes" to status, such as a piece of property going from being for sale to being under contract, he explains.

Another tool for remote users is an iPhone/Android app. But this app doesn't allow remote users to even view inventory; it's an email mechanism only. "The iPhone/Android app has no secure layers," Peltz says. "It is basically just out there to allow communication with loan originators and other agents via text messages or email."

The iPhone/Android app will be replaced later this year with a Web-based application. "This new interface will allow inventory access as well as access to other secured databases," Peltz explains.

For his part, Erie Insurance's Miller says that mobile phone users -- agents, claims adjusters and Erie policy holders -- have to authenticate themselves by completing the "first notice of loss" iPhone application. agents, claims adjustor, or any Erie policy holder.

"We rely on the security of the phone to allow people to get into the app, but then you have to authenticate yourself against our back-end system," he says.

"During the design of apps we always assume that a phone can be lost," and they keep in mind what would be lost in case someone cracks the encryption. "We continually have ongoing discussions with our usability group about this," he says. "The usability group wants to make it easier for people to use the phone, while the security folks want to make it more difficult."

Next time: A look at mobile-app development

Bill Claybrook is an analyst with over 30 years of experience in the computer industry, and has specialties in Linux, open source, virtualization and cloud computing. He is president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass., and holds a PhD in computer science. He can be reached at bclaybrook@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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